Wednesday, April 18, 2007

sadness, anger, and responsibility

As I have done nearly incessantly since Monday, I've been watching news coverage of the tragedy at Virginia Tech. I just saw a replay of President Bush's speech at one of the memorial services. I watched many of the other speakers and was moved to tears and prayer for the community. But hearing Bush speak just pissed me off.

I have little doubt that his feelings of grief are genuine. I'm sure his heart is, as he says, full of sadness. But it seems somewhat hypocritical, not only for him, but for all of us, to get terribly upset about this terribly upsetting event, yet not to get upset about other world events which result in greater tragedies (if tragedies can be measured in numbers of lives lost). If anything, perhaps we should be feeling worse about, say, Iraq, because we theoretically could have prevented it. We, the people, the media, the Congress, didn't question. I realize that hindsight is 20/20, but even after it began and the lies came out, we've done nothing to stop it and little to even protest it. I suspect this is because we have no draft and the people most biographically available to protest (i.e., college students) face fairly little risk that their personal lives will be affected.

So, today, four bomb attacks in Baghdad killed 183 people. Where are the prayers and the vigils and the memorials (and perhaps the protests) on their behalf? I realize that, psychologically, the deaths of innocents across the world and during a war is less emotionally charged than the senseless death of innocents with whom we identify. It makes sense. Psychological explanations also get at why shooting deaths are bigger stories than airplane crash deaths. Some deaths are more "tragic" than others in the public imagination.

I understand these processes and that's why I'm not as angry with the public generally as I might be. I am part of that public. I see news coverage of the deaths of Iraqis and American soldiers every day, and while I feel sad and angry, rarely do I break down and cry as I have done numerous times over the past few days.

But I am angry when I see Bush up there. Because he (and others in power), much more so than we, the people, had a direct hand in Iraq. Why does he not go on national television every day and ask us to pray for those killed in this war? A loss life equivalent to several VA Techs occurs every day in Iraq.

Edit, 9:31pm: So, I just got a call from someone who thought I was perhaps underplaying the tragedy at VT in order to make war analogies. His point was that though Iraq and VT are both tragedies in their loss of life, there is a fundamental difference when it comes to the motives and that perhaps that can explain our different expressions of grief for the two events. Even though Bush et. al may have lied to us about Iraq, it wasn't done of out bloodlust, it was done out of greed for power, influence, or money. And, thus, this reaction to the senseless killing is understandably greater because we're looking in the face of pure evil rather than looking in the face of greed and gross incompetence.

I think that that is definitely part of what's going on... the motives matter. Very few people think GWB rejoices in the deaths of Americans or Iraqis. But my point is that motives don't dim the tragedy. And my narrower point, the spur for this post though I certainly got off track in it, is that it's particularly hypocritical for GWB to be up there. He has not gone to a single military funeral. He has not allowed pictures of returning caskets. He is carefully keeping the American people from getting a picture of the true tragedy of war, regardless of how we got in there.

If we're going to say that we as a culture value life, there are some hard facts we need to face up to. We should absolutely be mourning this tragedy in Virginia. We should be thinking about how it could be prevented in the future and what that might mean for public policy. We should be praying and sending good thoughts. But we should also be thinking about Iraq. And Darfur. And human trafficking. We should not only be praying we should be acting. We should be writing, to others and to officials, we should be in the streets. We should be thinking about moral obligations, public responsibility, and private actions. Sadness and anger are generally not very useful unless they come with mobilization and a determination to change. That's our responsibility.

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